Friday, 22 October 2010

Be part of better... a Basque example

We should be feeling a bit more pride for our country following the fine medal tally and performance at the Commonwealth Games. Did you see the rapturous passing on of the baton from India to Scotland for the friendly games in Glasgow in 2014?

In Caithness I enjoyed the opening of the Mod and the wonderful procession of talented musicians and performers who came north to enhance our culture. We should all welcome expressions of our healthy cultural life. As I’ve said before they are the experiences that make life richer.

In between the Mod and leading a Highland Games and music party to the Basque Country I breathed in the positive air of the SNP conference in Perth. Be part of better was the campaign spelled out there.


Winter's is on its’ way at the end of the golden road of autumn biting winds of the arctic will begin to blow, brining a new season. At the start of this week the biting winds of budget cuts were announced, bringing with it a era of austerity, which will be as keenly felt and last longer than the impending winter.

Whilst we look to the North for the coming winter we can look to the South for cuts. As individuals are powerless to stop the onslaught of this winter the Scottish Government is powerless to stop the spread of cuts from Westminster. As it stands just now the Scottish Parliament does not have the financial powers which would allow a Scottish solution for a Scottish problem.

Unable to borrow or pull the financial levers which other countries in the world take for granted the Scottish Government is reliant of a block grant from the Westminster Government. So cuts to the block grant from the UK Government mean that the Scottish Government have to make the money go as far as it can. Given this week’s announcement it seems that cuts are greater than anticipated.

Not for the first time in history the Labour Party has left a legacy of debt and economic mismanagement on a grand scale. Not for the first time the Conservatives have come in wielding the axe with privatisation on their mind, however this time they are aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, who in the main seem to have forgotten their SDP roots in their embrace of power.

As we see this week these cuts are deep however they would have been under Labour too (witness Alasdair Darling declaring that if Labour won the election then he would implement cuts which were deeper and tougher than Thatcher).

The Conservatives are clearing up the debt left by Labour the only way they know, ruthless public sector slices and the vulnerable left to fend as best they can. The Lib Dems are contributing with zeal, Labour is trying to absolve itself of responsibility and the SNP Government has to make the best of it, without sufficient powers at its disposal to do things differently. Any Scottish Government would be in the same position regardless of colour.

The Scottish Parliament was set up to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. However at the moment neither the Parliament nor Government have those powers. It is like facing down a force 10 northerly on Dunnet Head in a t-shirt. That’s why the First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond told the SNP conference that ‘the independence I seek is the independence to create jobs’.


Readers, you should be in no doubt that Scotland faces stark choices next May. But so do many other peoples. Some have full powers over their futures. Others like the Basque provinces of Spain already have more powers to raise taxes than we do. I found out more about them when I supported the Scots Highland party whose games skills and music captured the hearts of thousands of Basque people of all ages. In Ordizia the Highland Games attracted four thousand spectators. In Burlada near Pamplona fifty thousand local people enjoyed the fund raising festival for their local Basque language school which is run on cooperative lines. The addition of Scots guests was highly popular.
Cllr Roy Peterson, School Head and
Rob Gibson MSP with Language Declaration

 I had the pleasure of contributing to a declaration that all those who wish to speak their own languages should be supported and encouraged. The Munduz Mundu festival goes from town to town each year. It helps some cultural or education purpose there. What a good idea.

What did the Scots contribute? At a civil society level, leaving politics to the side the Basque mood is to end memories of violent disagreement between Basque and Spanish ideas of government. It is civic and non-party call for change for the better.

Rob visited the Mondragon cooperatives seen around
their valley home in the heart of the Basque country
 After the festivals I fulfilled a dream of thirty years standing to visit Mondragon the home of the biggest Basque cooperative movement which started in 1956 as a way to educate some local young men and make work in the Spain of the Franco dictatorship that was down on all things Basque.

The local priest Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta applied Catholic social doctrine to start cooperative working. Today it consists of two hundred and fifty six enterprises and foundations. They are committed to greater social wealth through customer satisfaction, job creation, technological and business development. This has embraced continuous improvement, promotion of education and respect for the environment. In 2009 92,000 work in its companies, and a total turnover of 16 million Euros. Factories in China and Brazil are but the latest ideas being developed.

I’ll tell you more of this in due course because it works. Would that we could find model of work that are resilient and release our potential? That’s what drives me to work for a consensus in the Far North to find the best ways for our skills to build not just jobs but a common belief we can do it.

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